Creating the title role at the U.S.premiere of the Broadway-bound ZORRO The Musical has been rewarding and exhilarating for Derek Smith.
But the experience has paid off in reaction from reviewers. “The talent assembled on stage for the opening-night gala electrifies, led by a dashing Derek Smith as Diego-Zorro,” wrote The Deseret News, Salt Lake’s oldest daily newspaper. “Smith, showing tremendous energy, takes on a range of guises and negotiates each with great aplomb.”
A national tour of ZORRO The Musical, which premiered in London’s West End in 2008 to universal rave reviews and an armload of British Olivier award nominations, will play the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles producers report. Under the direction of the London team headed by the Tony-winning Christopher Renshaw, the show is scheduled for a 90-week tour beginning in 2013, including a three-month stay on Broadway, The musical made its U.S. debut on Feb. 15 in a production by the Hale Centre Theatre, in West Valley, Utah, after productions in a number of international capitols.
Hale Centre Theatre was granted the first U.S. rights to ZORRO The Musical after Hale Executive Producer Sally Dietlein approached John Gertz, president and founder of Zorro Productions, who is responsible for development of the musical. After visiting the theater and experiencing Hale’s production of A TALE OF TWO CITIES THE MUSICAL in March 2011, Gertz gave Hale Centre the green light and began collaborating on the premiere in Utah under the direction of Dave Tinney. The Hale Centre season includes the regional premiere of 9 TO 5 The Musical in August, and the theater company is widely regarded for its annual productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The Hale Centre’s remaining three shows in its popular season subscription series are FATHER OF THE BRIDE, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and OLIVER!
“Sally (Dietlein) does really first-class, excellent productions,” Gertz, who produced the West End premiere and subsequent international productions, told The Deseret News. “I was honestly quite impressed with the quality of the productions at the Hale.”
In an exclusive interview with Broadway World Salt Lake City Contributing Editor Blair Howell, Smith discusses creating the lead role in ZORRO The Musical.
Tell me about Diego-Zorro.
I grew up playing Musketeers and Zorro in my backyard. I would get my dad to buy us wooden dowels and make them into swords. So for me, playing Zorro is a dream come true. The reality of it all still hasn’t fully set in. Sometimes I'll walk off stage and see myself in a mirror, and literally laugh. Then I have this moment where I find myself thinking, "I'm Zorro! This is so cool!" This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I love the fact that I get to play the wacky and goofy Diego. Then in a matter of seconds I become the hero. Who wouldn't want to be the hero who gets the girl in the end?
I tried to compare Diego to myself. Diego is just a guy who has been thrown into an experience that he didn't necessarily want, but in the end, he needed. I compared this to some of my experiences with the Marine Corps. Going through boot camp isn't necessarily something that anyone wants. But in the end, it's something that made me the man I am today. I also am a goofball, and the childish aspect of Diego came kind of easy... A little too easy, now that I think of it.
The hardest thing about Zorro, is it's a part of pop culture. Most people I talk to have their ideas of Zorro based of the Disney television series, or the Antonio Banderas movies. It's hard to please everyone, and I never will. You have to try to find a happy medium of trying to include what you think Zorro is, but also trying to include enough of what you think people are expecting him to have. It's like walking a tightrope, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
What is your favorite part of the show?
The sword fighting. I grew up playing football, baseball and was in Taekwondo for three years. I also spent five years in the Marine Corps. I love the athleticism of this show. Being able to combine the creative side of acting, with the athletic side of my personality is definitely an enjoyable process.
This is also the first time my wife, Keolani Smith, and I have done a show together since my daughter was born in 2010. It has been fun to share the stage with her again. She's in the ensemble and we have had fun performing together. It's hard being away from our daughter Kenzie, but if we're going to be away from her, the stage helps make it bearable.
What was the moment told you “I want to be an actor”?
I actually got into acting by accident. I signed up for a Musical Theater class in high school because I thought it was a class where you watched old musicals and wrote reports. Much to my surprise when I showed up to the first day of class and discovered the word "performance" was used quite literally, I almost dropped out of the class. The first time I realized it might be something that I could enjoy was my first role Moonface Martin in ANYTHING GOES. I found out I was kind of good at it, so I stuck with it. I found the thrill from being on stage exhilarating, and I couldn't get enough of it. Luckily I stayed with it because I met my wife at Hale Centre Theatre in 2002 while doing THE MUSIC MAN.
What has been your favorite role?
It is a tie between Zorro and Robbie Hart in THE WEDDING SINGER. They are my favorite roles for different reasons. Zorro, because of the swords and type of character he is. Robbie because he plays the guitar and it's just a fun show. I honestly can't find myself deciding on one role. I'm content with just saying it's a tie.
What is your dream role?
Well, since I've played D'Artagnan from the musical THE THREE MUSKETEERS and now Zorro in ZORRO The Musical, I don't have a lot of roles left on my bucket list. I think the only thing left for me is Dr. Henry Jeckyll from the musical JECKYLL & HYDE. The thought of playing a character who is both a well-educated, sophisticated doctor and then a psychopathic maniac would be the most interesting role I could ever do!
Smith’s credits include Tommy in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Ozzy in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, Gabelle in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Joseph in JOSEPH…DREAMCOAT and Sergeant ByRon Richardson in THE CIVIL WAR.
The score to ZORRO The Musical was written by The Gipsy Kings, which has sold 13 million albums worldwide, and includes the pop Latino-Andalucían group’s international hits “Bamboleo and “Djobi Djoba.” The book is by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson with lyrics by Stephen Clark, who cowrote the music.
For more information on the U.S. premiere of ZORRO The Musical at the Hale Centre Theatre, visit http://www.halecentretheatre.org/productionpages/nowplaying.php. The ZORRO The Musical website is http://www.zorro.com/et-musical.html.